To Get a Better School System: One Hundred Years of Education Reform in Texas

To Get a Better School System: One Hundred Years of Education Reform in Texas

To Get a Better School System: One Hundred Years of Education Reform in Texas

To Get a Better School System: One Hundred Years of Education Reform in Texas


In 1949, as postwar Texas was steadily becoming more urban and calls for education reform were gathering strength throughout the state and nation, State Representative Claud Gilmer and State Senator A. M. Aikin Jr. sponsored a bill designed to increase salaries for Texas schoolteachers. Also tied to the bill, however, were provisions related to sweeping changes in school funding and access to education for minorities. In To Get a Better School System, Gene B. Preuss examines not only the public policy wrangling and historical context leading up to and surrounding the Gilmer-Aikin legislation, but also places the discussion in the milieu of the national movement for school reform.


When historians write about reform movements, the resulting works are often administrative studies evaluating the way a bureaucracy forms and operates. Policy studies, comparing and contrasting the differences between the expectations the reformers promised and those that actually resulted either because of limits owing to racism or economic opportunism, are another popular approach. Histories of reform are sometimes cultural studies, viewing the reform as the imposition of one culture upon another. Educational historians such as Michael Katz, David Tyack, and Diane Ravitch have effectively addressed school reforms using these perspectives.

The story of school reform in Texas allows us to evaluate school reform from a different perspective. Instead of a policy analysis or an evaluation of the success or shortcomings of the policy, the purpose of this study is to uncover the reasons why Texas lawmakers initiated a dramatic change in the state’s public school administration following World War ii, especially when legislators had previously rejected substantially the same reforms on previous occasions. It is my contention that Texans had always wanted a first-rate system of education, but only the threat of a crisis moved Texans to look beyond strong political and economic prejudices that led them to oppose earlier reform suggestions. Reformers advocated a centralized system of tax-supported public education, while opponents held that education was a parental responsibility and worried that too much centralization threatened local control.

Americans, like people in other cultures, are willing to make drastic changes when they perceive a threat, and in recent years the fear of an impending national crisis has often precipitated educational reform. in the late 1950s, Sputnik threatened U.S. military security, and in the 1980s, A Nation at Risk warned of a cultural and economic crisis. in both cases, the nation looked toward education as a means of preserving the American way of life.

In 1949, likewise, reformers successfully used the recent world war to persuade the public that a centralized school system would preserve democracy and that the money spent on education would be in Texas’ best interest.

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